Friday, April 29, 2011

Yankee Wedding Yap

We'll admit it. We woke up early to watch the royal wedding. Kate looked great, the ceremony was sweet and the queen was too cute in her yellow get-up. To get in touch with our inner Windsor and show some true Brit when comparing notes after the festivities, we made sure to consult  Baltimore Sun language maven, John Mcintyre, for his list of favorite British words. So make a cup of Earl Grey and try out some new Britspeak until you're knackered. We've been up since 5am, so we know we are. But we'll stop whinging.

So Long to Longhand?

The New York Times reported Thursday that the handwriting is already on the wall for handwriting in American education, with "the sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet...going the way of the quill and inkwell." That's raising some interesting questions about the future of letters. How will Bart Simpson be punished from now on? And more seriously, what will we as culture lose by dropping this formative connection to our past?

More than a few educators are non-plussed by the non-use of "the fancier ABC's" by today's school children, the Times tell us. "Schools today, we say we’re preparing our kids for the 21st century," says one elementary school principal. "Is cursive really a 21st-century skill?”

But with an increasing number of Americans unable to read -- let alone write -- the classic English script, some  experts are concerned that students may be missing out on formative fine-motor skills, and historians worry that people lose an important connection to archival materials. Meanwhile, graphologists foresee a possible increase in forgery, since it's easier to fake block-lettering than proper cursive.

For others the loss is more intangible. "It's hard for me to make a practical arguement for it," says University of Portland education professor Richard S. Christen. "I'm mourning the beauty, the aesthetics."

All that makes us wonder: do you still use cursive to communicate? Does the way you scrawl change the way you think? And if penmanship as we knew it goes the way of the dodo, what about those loopy letters will you miss most?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Around the Word

"Paging" all night owls: Archpriest and spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church, Vsevolod Chaplin, is known as an unorthodox thinker -- among his more out-of-the-pulpit ideas was a national dress code to prevent women from "confusing city streets with strip clubs." The New Yorker reports that Chaplin's latest creative notion, tapping into Russia's proud literary tradition, is to open a series of "spiritual nightclubs" stocked with books (and tea) instead of booze. Think this will play in St. Petersburg? How about Manhattan?

Snap, crackle, Push Pop: The digitalization of books is quickly evolving beyond the words on your Kindle. Wired reports that two former Apple engineers, Mike Matas and Kimon Tsinteris, have set out to "blow up" the book with their new venture, Push Pop Press. Push Pop Press will create book apps which take advantage of the advanced sensors in the iPhone and iPad. Reading will be turned into a completely interactive experience where videos, interactive diagrams, and geotagged photos are just the beginning. To get a better idea of how these features this will enhance the way we read, Wired also features a video tour of the new book Al Gore recently produced with Push Pop.

Vlogging your work: If you're looking for new ways to raise their profile and expand their networks, you may want to give video blogging a try. So says Jennifer Wilkov, the host of the radio talk show "Your Book Is Your Hook" on WomensRadio, who has a persuasive post up today on Rachelle Gardner's blog on the benefits of vlogging for writers. Among other things, Wilkov says, it provides an especially efficient introduction of who you are and how you speak -- qualities important to editors and agents. To make the most of this medium, Wilkov advises, keep your video between 1-3 minutes, choose a pleasant backdrop, and minimize distracting background noise. Have you considered Vlogging or already do it? Tell us about your experience.

Sole proprietor, literary edition: First there was the pop-up book. Now thanks to enterprising author Andrew Kessler, we have the pop-up bookstore. According to the New York Times, the Brooklyn-based writer came up with the singular idea to open his own quicky shop in the West Village that only sells his own books. Customers can find 3,000 copies of Kesslers work, Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission, which are available at $27.95 a pop. Kessler, who spent 90 days inside mission control during the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, wittily welcomes customers into the store with the sign, "We have one book, but we're not Scientologists."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Around the Word

Memoir mishaps: With the Three Cups of Tea controversy still percolating heavily, NPR talked to New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus about why it is so challenging for publishers to vet memoirs. From the aesthetic argument that writers have the license to shape their narrative to a cynical view that jazzed-up stories can sometimes sell more, Tanenhaus points out that there are many reasons for publishers to look the other way when it comes to memoirs.

Memoirs, think fast: Literary speed demons take note -- GalleyCat is hosting a six-word memoir contest for aspiring mini-memoir writers. Held in conjunction with Smith Magazine's Six-Word Memoir Story Slam, winning entries will get a chance to perform in the New York City reading. The subject of your memoir should be mothers and daughters or fathers and sons. For example, "Dad wore leather pants in Reno."

Murray's speak easy: For most speechwriters, giving a talk themselves  comes much less naturally than writing -- and can often be a source of dread. Vital Speeches editor David Murray comes to the rescue today with five easily applicable tips for keyboard jockies who are forced to get behind the podium. As Murray says, practicing a speech might be a pain, "but no more a pain than writing a long feature story would be for a certified electrician."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Around the Word

The self-publishing plot thickens: Last week's Wall Street Journal piece on the destabilizing effect that self-publishing is having on book prices industry-wide is continuing to reverberate in the literary world. Today Mike Shatzkin, the CEO of Idea Logical Company and one of the top thought leaders on digital publishing, offers his two cents on the rise of the 99 cent book on his blog. But the real news comes at the bottom of Shatzkin's post, where he announces that self-publishing pioneer Barry Eisler will be speaking about his groundbreaking decision to go solo at the Publishers Launch conference at BEA on May 25.

It's about Time: The New Yorker is rejoicing in the fact that professional writers Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, George R.R. Martin, and Chinese investigative journalist Hu Shuli will all be featured in The Time 100 list this year. That's a 400 percent increase on the magazine's list of most influential figures over last year, when not one writer made the cut. Writer and Daily Show regular John Hodgman (you may know him as PC in the Apple commercials) attributes this void to the fact that "there isn't enough shaming of non-readers on our society." Do you agree?

Speed racer: If you find your writing frustrating or too time consuming, Ragan suggests that one trick you may want to try is using a kitchen timer. Revving up your writing speed, they contend, can help tap your creativity and improve your overall writing process. You'll be able to outrun any negative self-criticism, capture ideas and flashes of brilliance that occur spontaneously, and have more time to edit when you're done among other reasons.

Ads for an era: The new ad campaign for Barnes & Noble's Nook Color aims to put a shiny, reassuring gloss on the revolution shaking up the publishing world and the reading experience. The New York Times reports that the Nook campaign revolves around the tagline "Read Forever," invoking the hopeful message that reading is changing, but it's not going away. The commercials feature dreamy sequences of readers unperturbed by the world around them, and to add authenticity, casting scouts were deployed to find everyday people reading in public places (they number more then half of those on screen). Interestingly there are no B&N stores or storefronts in the commercial, a nod to the redistribution of consumers away from brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Around the Word

Your BloGG-master fell a little behind in their surfing duties during the holiday week (there is such a thing as too much chocolate matzoh). So to get caught up, today we're highlighting several days worth of wordly tibits that  caught our eye, starting with the most recent.

Eau de Tolstoy?: If the whiff of a good book turns you as much as reading one, then Karl Lagerfeld has just the thing for you. We learned today that the Chanel designer is working on a new fragrance called Paper Passion, which will be sold inside a hollowed-out hardcover, and is designed to smell like printed paper. But, as the Independent notes, if you can't wait for Lagerfeld's latest creation, several literary-inspired perfumes already exist, including Demeter's Paperback, Zadig & Voltaire's Tome 1, or Penhaligons's Hammam Bouquet. Either way, the idea of cuddling up with a good book may never be the same.

Negotiating the metaphorical minefield: For speakers and writers, the metaphor can be a tricky weapon: it can blow away your audience -- or just as easily blow up in your face. The Eloquent Woman offers a great take on the stakes today, building on the experiences and insights of master negotiator Jeswald W. Salacuse, and some useful tips on how to avoid expository explosions.

The glories of Storify: For all you online researchers drowning in data, Storify may be the life-preserver you've been waiting for. The new Web tool, which debuted today, is designed to help journalists and other digital seekers filter the yawning mass of online information, separate the relevant from the chatter, and distill the essential story. Try it and let us know what you think.

Ghostess with the mostess: No matter  your political affiliation, it would be hard not to respect the recent accomplishments of Lynn Vincent, Sarah Palin's ghostwriter. With her latest work -- Unsinkable, the story of 16-year-old Abby Sutherland's failed attempt to sail across the world -- Vincent might earn the rare distinction of having three books on the best-seller list in one week. The Daily Beast recently profiled this prolific pro, giving us an inside look at Vincent's rise from homelessness and drug abuse, and how she has mined the themes of redemption and faith throughout her work.

Tricks of the Tweet: When our firm did its first tweet-chat during last year's State of the Union, we were mostly flying blind. You can avoid our rookie mistakes, and learn to tweet a speech like a pro, by checking out this post from the 10,000 Words blog over at Mediabistro. Perhaps most importantly, don't forget to tweet sparingly and"limit yourself to a maximum of three tweets a minute." Other tips include bringing in visuals and linking to a livestream. What have you found to be most effective?

Free cable, room service and Grapes of Wrath: In honor of this week's Pen World Voices Festival, the Standard Hotel is stocking its hotel rooms with American classic books chosen by Salman Rushdie (and provided by Housing Works). In classically cheeky fashion, the New York Post wonders "what would Rushdie suggest taking to read in the Boom Boom Room?"

Would you sign my tablet? With the growing popularity of e-readers, some literary enthusiasts are wondering how they can get their favorite digital works inked at a book signing. A new app, Autography, proposes a nifty solution. Someone snaps a picture of you and the author with the iPad or a digital camera, the author signs the image on the tablet with a stylus and then emails you a link so you can download the signed image right into your eBook. If you want to see Autography in action, it is set to debut at the BookExpo in New York in late May.

Living Libraries: In case you missed it, Amazon announced last week that its new Kindle Lending Library will allow owners of any tablet or e-reader with a Kindle App to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 local U.S. libraries. The coolest part may just be what was once the biggest library "no-no:" all annotations and bookmarks will be saved should you re-check the book out or even decide to purchase it, but they will not be visible to the next person who takes out the book.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Books from Gotham Friends

This spring is not only bringing an overabundance of showers, but a hail of new books from friends of our firm. Here are a couple recent releases we thought you might find of interest.

The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, by John Miller

If you think football has a problem with concussions and violence today, Miller, a correspondent for National Review, says consider the game as it was played a little more than a century ago: In 1905, eighteen people died playing the sport. The problem was so severe, a movement to ban football sprang up, led by the president of Harvard University, The Nation magazine, muckraking journalists, and others. A solution came through the remarkable intervention of Theodore Roosevelt, a vigorous supporter of football who summoned the top college coaches to the White House and urged them to reform the rules. This meeting led directly to the formation of the NCAA and the invention of the forward pass -- an innovation that transformed the sport as it shifted away from its rugby-like origins and created the distinctively American game we love today.

The Big Scrum (Harper Collins) recounts this remarkable story in full for the first time, and the early reviews are, well, pretty smashing. The Associated Press: "Miller’s easygoing narrative and keen eye for colorful detail should cheer sports fans and history buffs alike." Booklist: "Enjoyable history of a seldom explored turning point in American sports history." Pat Sajak (yes, it's really the guy from "Wheel of Fortune") in National Review: "Miller writes about college football enthusiastically and eloquently.

World in the Balance: The Perilous Months June-October 1940, by Brooke Stoddard

Stoddard, a former writer/editor at Time-Life Books and National Geographic Books and editor of Military Heritage Magazine, offers war buffs a meaty, in-depth account of the Battle of Britain. World in the Balance (Potomac Books) not only narrates the duel between the RAF and the Luftwaffe but also lesser known travails of this crucial summer and fall: the British navy's attack on the French fleet after France surrendered to the Germans; the race to perfect radar and Enigma-machine decoding; the German effort to put Edward VIII back on the throne of a subdued Britain; and intrigue for bringing Spain into the war on Germany's side. Many people believed Britain would succumb to the Nazi forces as swiftly has France had, Stoddard argues, but Britain held firm and carried the torch for democratic countries. The work covers a decisive moment in world history.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bitter Tea for the Ghostwriter

By Meakin Armstrong

I haven’t read activist Greg Mortenson’s memoirs, Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, but in their spirit, let’s pretend I have. They tell the story of a man who, after inspirational encounters with various Pakistani villagers (and an eight-day kidnapping misadventure by the Taliban), comes to build schools for the poor in various troubled areas. That Mortenson has done a great deal of good with his schools has been verified by independent sources. The trouble starts, however, when we discover that many of his more memorable published claims have been proven to be false.

Mortenson hasn’t spoken extensively to the press since reporter Steve Kroft subjected him recently to a classic 60 Minutes takedown (complete with an on-camera ambush in the old Mike Wallace style). Instead, he has issued a defense of his works: one to his local Bozeman, Montana paper and the other to Alex Heard, in an interview with Outside magazine.

Of interest to us are these lines concerning his ghostwriter, David Oliver Relin:
He did nearly all the writing, and along with hundreds of interviews of those involved in the story, I helped him piece together the whole timeline, and from that we started creating the narrative arc and everything.
That sounds proper, and a good working solution.
David insisted on writing the book in third person, which is really awkward. The publisher said, Greg, you’re too understated, so this needs to be in the third person. My wife, Tara, also told me that if I wrote a book, it would be a pamphlet.
Again, fine. We all have to make our narrative choices. But Mortenson didn’t want to make these choices? Was he bullied?

Or had he made a Faustian bargain, instead? In the name of a compelling narrative that would sell, he would lie? He goes on to say:
What happens then is, when you re-create the scenes, you have my recollections, the different memories of those involved, you have his writing, and sometimes things come out different. In order to be convenient, there were some omissions. If we included everything I did from 1993 to 2003, it would take three books to write it. So there were some omissions and compressions, and. … I don’t know, what that’s called?
As an ex-fact-checker I’d say that’s called a lie. It doesn’t follow that you “recreate scenes” when you switch from first person to third.

Mortenson seems to claim that confusion and misguided trust of his ghostwriter led to where he is today: a bug wiggling under a pin thrust into him by Steve Kroft. Was he bullied? Is the ghostwriter at fault? I find it wrong to blame the ghostwriter. He’s a ghostwriter -- it’s not his name on the book. He’s not the one on TV making the claims. The subject is. The subject needs to retain control, in the name of the story (and it goes without saying, that story’s inherent truth). I find it an odd contention that one could bully Mortenson. In my experience with clients, I’ve not been able to bully anyone.

Few people know what a ghostwriter is. And because so few do (and because they have such a spectral name) it could be assumed they’re powerful beings who bully their clients -- is that Mortenson’s last-ditch hope? He also throws in the publishing company (and by implication, their corporate greed) for aspersion and blame. I don’t think this washes, especially since Mortenson has repeated the various “compressed” claims in other venues (for example, on Bloomberg TV).

Ghostwriters make sense of a story and deliver a narrative. They clarify matters. If they “compress” a story, yes, that’s wrong. But ultimately the subject has a story that’s all their own. They are responsible for it.

Armstrong is a freelance writer and ghostwriter based in New York

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Writing Manifesto for the Everyman Writer

What's the most important thing to remember about writing a story? When The Guardian's Tim Radford posed the question to himself, "the answer came back loud and clear: 'To make somebody read it.'" To that end, he's compiled "A Manifesto for the Simple Scribe -- My 25 Commandments for Journalists." Part style guide, part personal writing philosophy, Radford's guideposts prioritize communication with your audience above all else: ""No one will ever complain," he points out, "because you have made something too easy to understand."

While Radford's Manifesto is specifically geared toward journalists, the underlying audience-centric wisdom (mostly) holds true for writers and editors of all stripes: "beware of long and preposterous words," and "remember that people will always respond to something close to them" is useful advice whether you're penning breaking news or annual reports.'s Erin Brenner, seeing the wider wisdom of Radfords words, did non-journalists a great favor by concretely adapting his original commandments for those of us working outside the newsroom. How does Radford's manifesto apply when you're writing -- or editing -- insider texts for a very specific audience? Radford's principles are geared toward writers targeting a broad readership, but what happens when you're producing content for academics or industry pros? Here, Brenner's in agreement with the spirit of Radford's law, if not the letter. He's writing for "someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Parson's Green and Putney," while she's concerned with highly specialized experts: the overarching principle, however, stays the same. Above all else, "consider the audience" -- whoever they may be.

What do you think? What communication commandments would you add to Radford's Top 25?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dr. Seuss Guide to Commencement Speeches

By Cynthia Starks

In the April 3 issue of The Catholic Moment, my Indianapolis archdiocesan newspaper, Christine Capecchi writes about her favorite part of the upcoming commencement season—the “prospect of a send-off speech that summarizes the past four years and prepares for all the remaining ones. An address that wipes away distractions—the sweltering heat, silly stilettos, stiff chairs—and makes us all feel promising and powerful.”

She adds, “My hope is to be surprised, to be challenged and delighted by something original, free of cliché and the standard quote recipe (JFK + MLK + Helen Keller).”

I suspect Capecchi has not heard many contemporary commencement addresses, or she would know that speakers such as Steve Jobs at Stanford, Will Ferrell, J.K. Rowling and Bill Gates at Harvard, Jodi Foster and Bono at UPenn, Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane or Jon Stewart at William and Mary don’t typically quote JFK, MLK or Helen Keller.

Jodi Foster ended her commencement address at UPenn on May 15, 2006, with this quote from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself:”
You better lose yourself in the music
The moment you own it you better never let it go, oh
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
Cuz opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.

Capecchi demonstrates she’s a girl after my own heart, however, revealing her favorite commencement speech is really Dr. Seuss’s book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Mine too.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a fabulous template for a commencement address. It covers all the bases.

It begins on an up note: “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go."

But not so fast, Seuss cautions, “Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t, because sometimes you won’t. I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true. That Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

Seuss tells us that “slumps” are part of life and so is something he calls “The Waiting Place,” where people are “Waiting for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow.

“Waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break, or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance…”

Indeed. In these difficult times, many of us are waiting for a “better break” and “another chance.” For an interview, a job, a new client, for the price of gas to drop, a house to sell, our boys to come home from the wars, for our ship to come in.

Seuss’s conclusion? “But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. On and on you will hike and I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed. 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.”

Alas, some of us will and some of us won’t succeed. But perhaps that’s too much candor for a commencement address.

Christine Capecchi puts it this way, “We walk the path of the saints, who turned their dreams into deeds—whether there was rain or snow, whether they heard yes or no. We heed God’s call to action, his summons to use our talents and not bury them. And we hold the banner high, with a Seuss-like bravado, so the new graduates can see where to go.”

Yo, Eminem?

Cynthia Starks is a freelance speechwriter based in Central Indiana. This post was originally published on Vital Speeches of the Day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

LBF Leftovers

A quick wrap-up of the main takeaways from this week's London Book Fair. . . .

2011 BF blockbusters: Every year there are a select few titles that explode at the fair. According to The Guardian, this year's buzz generators included a tantalizing trio of titles: Steve Jobs' new authorized biography iSteve: The Book of Jobs, former British PM John Major's history of music halls, and the debut novel of Love Story author Erich Segal's daughter Francesca. But it was the quantity of deals, not the quality, that seemed to be the real story. Publishers Marketplace reports that March acquisitions were up 25 percent from the prior year, and April looks to be up 20 percent thus far.

International interest: The LBF is one of the major avenues U.S. publishers and agents use to sell foreign rights to their titles, but until recently the reverse was quite rare. This year, though, German agent Michael Gaeb reports a noticeable shift, with growing interest from American publishers at the fair for works in translation. The reason? Gaeb suggests it's largely due to the girls who sell a ton of books -- also known as Swedish sensation Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy.

E-readers flock to iPad: The only thing more prevalent at this year's LBF than e-book angst was apparently the physical presence of e-readers themselves -- most notably the iPad. According to eBook Magazine, the Kindle's tiny gray screens were nowhere to be seen, despite what many refer to as the "superior technology" behind the device. Chalk it up to how "desirability often trumps hardware specs," the mag says.

Around the Word

The new brain drain: The Great Recession may technically be over, but a new study highlighted this week by VSOTD editor David Murray indicates it is still taking its toll on the creativity and energy of leaders. When the economic forecast is gloomy, Murray reports, leaders don't get to stretch their creative muscles and are often stuck in no-win employee situations. Murray asks -- and we want to know too-- have you noticed a change in energy in the thought-leaders you work with? 

HuffPo bloggers take gloves off (carpel tunnel be damned): The big news on the Web this week (now that Charlie Sheen is relatively back on his rocker) was the $105 million lawsuit filed against Huffington Post by a group of disgruntled writers. The suit, led by union organizer and journalist Jonathan Tasini, has cheered many unappreciated and uncompensated bloggers. But more than a few digital sympathizers panned the play. Leading the friendly critics: Slate writer Jack Shafer, who argues that Tasini is more of a gold-digging opportunist than a champion of the people. 

Are you ready for your convention close-up? More and more conferences are asking prospective speakers to submit a video to prove their performance chops. The Eloquent Woman says don't worry, just be snappy -- check out a few of her most helpful tips on how make your speaking style sparkle on film. 

Now for many words from our sponsors: Amazon recently announced the release of an advertisement-supported Kindle that has caused some readers to protest the commercialization of the reading process. But the New York Times reminds us that books have had a long and sordid relationship with advertising. From ads for medical remedies in Dickens serials to cigarette ads in racy 1970s paperbacks, the new Kindle is just another chapter in the "secret history" of books and advertising.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Around the Word

New hot blog: A new blog to watch for you speech junkies was launched this week by Gotham friend David Meadvin, a former top speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who runs his own speech shop in DC. To kick things off, Meadvin challenged Fox anchor Lou Dobbs for his ill-informed comments about federal officials who use speechwriters. Dobbs said on air that if you can't give a speech without a speechwriter, "then you probably ought to just shut up." Meadvin clarified for Dobbs that the problem isn't a lack of ability but time.

"In principle, I get this.  No one likes to think that the leader they elected can’t think for him or herself.  Here’s the thing, though.  I’ve never worked for a boss who expected me to create thoughts, policies or positions. The job of a speechwriter — like any good staffer — is to extend their boss’s capabilities.  The leaders I’ve written for — from the U.S. Senate Majority Leader to the U.S. Attorney General and a wide variety of other government, corporate and non-profit leaders — could write their own speeches if they had the time."

Toward better punmanship: Another Gotham friend, John Pollack, has just released the latest ur-text of English wordplay, the Pun Also Rises. The former Clinton speechwriter provides a taste of what's to pun in a typically pithy Wall Street Journal piece this week, offering readers a few key rules for better punsmanship. He advises avoiding the unintended and overextended word plays, and to stick with wit. But most of all, he writes, "Pun with pride." "With practice," he adds, "it's easy as pi."

Giving new meaning to new meanings Over at Slate, Ben Yagoda has an insightful piece on the meaning of the changing meaning of words. As a case in point, Yagoda unplugs "nonplussed" and "disinterested": traditionally the former has meant confused and the latter has meant impartial, but now these words are often interpreted as meaning unimpressed and uninterested. While some purists would lament the loss of any traditional meaning, Yagoda takes a scientific approach and creates a metric for determining whether these old meanings are worth holding onto.

LOL in the OED: When "LOL" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary last month, many took it as a sign of the impending apocalypse -- or at a minimum a bad joke. But BBC News, indicating this was no laughing matter, conducted an in-depth examination of why this polarizing acronymn has gained so much traction. Their conclusion: Whether used ironically (lol...) or to convey actual laughter (lol!), LOL-ing is here to stay.

Fiction is stronger than truth: Just when the conventional wisdom was ready to write off print publications, it seems that literary magazines are telling a different story. This week the New York Times points out the success of several San Francisco-based literary journals, while Fishbowl NY says that New York mags are thriving too. Some of these success stories have moved online and others have stuck to traditional print. Either way, literary magazines have low overhead and a loyal audience, making them much safer bets in an increasingly turbulent publishing world.

Words worth reading: If you're looking for some classical insights on how to smarten up your speeches, Ragan's writing guru Russell Working puts in a persuasive plug for a new book from esteemed BU Law professor Ward Farnsworth, Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric. On the flip side, in the misery loves company department, Ragan offers a sympathy-inducing catalogue of typo horror stories from their readers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Around the Word, London Book Fair Edition

The London Book Fair kicks off today, gathering together an expected 23,000 industry pros for three days of international wheeling and book-dealing. While last year's event was hampered by the Icelandic volcano, which made travel impossible for a huge percentage of the fair's oversees delegates, Variety reports that the 2011 version has quite literally risen from the ashes: this year's show features an unprecedented 1,696 exhibitors from 58 countries.

We may be stuck stateside, but we're doing our best to round up this year's writerly talking points and key you into the conversation over the next few days. Here's a couple opening tidbits of interest.

Bear market (Part I): The current retail market is be tough, but Random House CEO Ian Hudson, for one, isn't swayed by the publishing doomsayers. "I’m convinced we’ve got a bright future. What we’re talking about really is how to bring books to our customers. To do that, we need to buy books," he told The Bookseller -- music to every writer's ears.

Bear market (Part II): Russia is the international "Market Focus" of this year's book fair, succeeding South Africa as the event's featured guest. The program, designed as a "key opportunity for UK and international publishers to liaise with their foreign counterparts," will spotlight some 50 Russian literati, along with about Russian 70 publishers. In Rossiyskaya Gazeta's supplement to London's Telegraph, Russian publishing guru and deputy head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications Vladimir Grigoriev reflects on the state of post-Soviet letters.

Bullish on digital: "Platform is key, distribution will be a challenge, but the digital numbers are finally beginning to live up to the hype." This was the general takeaway on the state of the E-volution from a range of speakers at the Sunday kickoff of the LBF's Digital Conference, according to Publishers Weekly. Some of the most encouraging word came from outside the book world. British video entrepreneur Michael Comish predicted that 2011 will be a "tipping point" for the e-publishing field. And Paul Brindley of argued that the publishing industry was much better positioned that their recording peers had been to adjust to changes in the marketplace.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Around the Word

Gaga-in-Chief: Of all the strange hats Lady Gaga has tried on and discarded, this may be the most unpredictable yet. The prime-cut-wearing pop star is slated to guest-edit the free subway daily, Metro, next month. Gaga will set up shop in Metro's London office to help with publication, including writing a feature, commenting on stories and contributing sidebars. Sign of the times -- or the apocalypse? Either way, the New York Observer writes, "Even the city's snobbiest subway commuters should consider leaving their Kindles at home on May 17."

Books back in Baghdad: Here's one of the most encouraging signs yet about post-war Iraq. Reuters reports that the landmark bookseller market on Mutanabi Street in Baghdad is reclaiming some of its old cultural spark, after laying deserted for years due to sectarian violence, with the Iraqi intellengensia coming back without a vengeance. "We have a saying: Cairo writes. Beirut prints. Baghdad reads," said Abdul-Wahab Mizher al-Radi, a Baghdad bookseller.

Freelancer frenemies: Self-employed writers may be tempted to give freebies to friends, but Men With Pens guest blogger Lisa Zahran says this will leave you overworked and underpaid -- without a boss to blame for it. Zahran offers five rules for standing your ground, saying "no" to mooching friends and making sure your time is valued.

You can say that again: Per the advice of David Murray at Vital Speeches, we encourage you to check out the Quote...Unquote website. Based on the eponymous BBC radio quiz show, the site is a source for all things quotable. Creator Nigel Rees searches for "lost" quotations and for the origins of phrases and sayings, then shares his findings on-air, on the web and in a free newsletter (which you can sign up for here).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Around the Word

NYPL Pajama Party: For all you insomniacs and Lionel Richie fans, circle May 20th on your calendars. That's when the New York Public Library will host a "Write All Night" scavenger hunt, where 500 participants will use laptops and smartphones to find 100 objects hidden in the library and and then perform a writing-related challenge based off those items. You can learn more about the event and how to enter here.

Paperless libraries?: In other library news, the city of Newport Beach is considering getting rid of the physical books at one of its local branches. Though this may outrage many bibliophiles, Nate Hoffelder over at eBookNewser  argues, "While you’re busy lighting the torches, let me say that I think this is an idea worth exploring. A library is more than just a place to house books." Think the all-digital concept will catch on?

Cover Awl: Contrary to the old cliche, books are in fact often judged by their covers. So say six writers The Awl surveyed on the importance of jackets and blurbs. Their experiences ranged from suggesting an image for the cover to having no input on a cover they hated, but they pretty much all agreed that asking other authors for blurbs is a humiliating experience. For those of you who have published books, what has your experience been when it comes to the packaging of your words?

Freelance fiasco: The AOL-Huffington Post unpaid writer drama continues. AOL laid off freelance writers in an email today, further annoying those already angry over HuffPo's use of unpaid bloggers and renewing calls for a writer's strike. But TechCrunch contributor Paul Carr argues to GalleyCat that the HuffPo platform is invaluable to writers promoting their work, and he's happy to do it for free.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gotham in the News

As you may have noticed, we at Gotham are more than a little fixated with the growing democratization of the publishing industry. In particular, we have been telling just about anyone who will listen about the amazing opportunities that are now open to a broad range of authors who in the past never would have had a chance at selling their book -- or bothered trying.

Well, it turns out the editors at, the folks behind PR Daily, were in fact paying attention. Today they have a terrific in-depth article exploring the exploding interest, especially among business executives, in producing books through DIY publishing outlets -- and with the assistance of ghostwriters. The piece prominently features our firm and our experience working with a burgeoning group of clients who are not interested in getting a deal but in getting a credential and using their book as a marketing platform for their company, their ideas, and/or themselves.

But don't take our word for it. To learn more about this trend, and see why others share our view that the self-publishing stigma is dying, check out the full Ragan article here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Around the Word

Meet Doc Block: As a coda to our post yesterday about Hollywood's fascination with writer's block, we would encourage you to check out a recent New Yorker article about a Tinseltown therapist who has made a career out of helping blocked writers rise from their rut. Or if you want to skip the long version, along with Barry Michels' $400/hour fee, you can get a free sneak peek at the doctor's unconventional advice today over Fishbowl LA.

Unusual suspects, Twitter edition: If you joined Twitter hoping to get writing tips from your favorite name-brand authors, you should think again. PR Daily surveyed tweets from a wide range of writers and found that the most valuable material is often posted by working editors and journalists. Among the five helpful hints the article cited from the Twitter rabble, we of course seized on this one from the Daily Beast's Dana Goldstein: "in my experience, the cause of most writer's block is a lack of reporting or research on which to base the writing"

Why the EU is not friendly to E-books: While the digital book business is taking off in the U.S., it's still in its infancy in the literary bastions of Europe. According to a recent New York Times article, the limited availability of e-reading devices and strict EU regulations are likely to make it 2-5 years before the European e-book market is able to catch up.

Tips for Gender Offenders: Writers tend to more sensitive than the average bear to politico-lingual minefields, but even the most experienced pros can slip up in using gender neutral pronouns. Deborah Gaines, who blogs as The Corporate Writer, offers a few easy fixes to business writers on how to minimize gender bias in their prose and avoid offending your audience.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Latest in Hollywood Block-busters

From "Adaptation" to "The Shining" to "Barton Fink," Hollywood has had a longstanding fascination with the blocked writer. The latest addition to this sublimating subgenre is "Limitless," which stars Bradley Cooper as a "frustrated novelist who gets his hands on an experimental drug that kicks his IQ up to the 'four digit' range." This got us wondering: how real are these reel-life portrayals? Is there something to be learned here (other than screenwriters can be as self-absorbed as everyone else in the biz)?

It turns out that Salon book critic Laura Miller was having a meta-mindmeld with us. She took the occasion of "Limitless"'s release last week to post a terrific meditation on the legend of the writer who can't write -- and, more importantly, the grim reality of writer's block -- that tackles the same questions we were pondering. To wit:

In "Limitless," the blocked writer-hero overcomes his literary struggles (and presumably, his other struggles) thanks to a magical elixir that inspires greatness by activating the "fabled" nine-tenths of the brain the rest of us can't use. "What's especially bizarre about the premise," Miller points out, "is the notion that writer's block can be overcome by an increase in intelligence." In real life, as any blocked writer will attest, a lack of brains isn't the problem.

So what is? While it's true that biochemistry plays a role in the creative process -- if not exactly in the way "Limitless" might suggest--most cases of writer's block aren't about a chemical imbalance. Rather, Miller argues, they're about fear. To back up her case, she enlists the Yerkes-Dodson Law. According to the pair of early 20th century psychologists, the "more 'aroused' (i.e., engaged and challenged) a person is by a task, the better he or she performs." That holds true until "arousal becomes anxiety or worry, at which point performance declines." So while feeling that your writing work is challenging and important is inspiring, feeling that your writing work is too high-stakes causes you to shut down.

But if "the stakes fuel the block," then Miller's got the remedy: what "every blocked writer really needs," she says, is "something more significant they should be doing instead." When your novel has got you paralyzed, in other words, what you need is an extremely urgent corporate assignment. Or as Miller puts it, "it's amazing what you can get done when you believe you're shirking some other, more important enterprise."

So, fellow writers, does this ring true? Have you ever enlisted a "decoy project" to get un-stuck? Where do you turn when the spark of inspiration just won't light?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Around the Word

The hoaxes with the mostess! Putting a wordly spin on April Fools Day, the Huffington Post gives us the "Best Literary Hoaxes Of All Time." From a falsified letter from Emperor Constantine to a string of modern fraudulent memoirs, this list shows that making stuff up has a long literary tradition.

On your mark, get set, screenwrite! The fifth annual Script Frenzy starts today, a challenge for pros and amateurs alike to write 100 pages of an original script in 30 days. It is free to participate and every writer who completes the challenge gets a certificate and web icon to celebrate their accomplishment. To offer encouragement to these speedy wordsmiths, the screenwriter Greg Marcks is offering a script-writing tip on the Script Frenzy website each day this month. Also, for more of the back story, check out this interview with Frenzy found Chris Baty that Gotham friend David Henry Sterry (of the Book Doctors) put up on Huffpo.

The downside of Kickstarter? We blogged yesterday about Kickstarter, a fundraising site that helps inventors and artists raise money for creative projects. While the site has many advantages for creators looking for cash, the Columbia Journalism Review hones in on some potential problems with DIY fundraising. If Kickstarter gets too big or people start abusing the system, CJR warns, the intimate feel that makes it so popular might be lost forever -- and the donors will be too.

Publishers still pitching in: As Japan continues to pick up the pieces after the earthquake and tsunami last month, the publishing industry is doing what it can to help. Among some of the recent initiatives: Melville House is donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of Banana Yoshimoto's forthcoming novel to relief agencies, while Chronicle Books employees held a San Francisco bakesale that raised $8,000 for the American Red Cross.